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I recently visited this amazing community and have no idea why I was so surprised. We midwesterners are lucky to have so many incredible gems in our backyards, and this place is no different. There are many great things to do in Clear Lake Iowa but here are a few of our favorites.
Clear Lake, Iowa, is a beautiful town situated in Northern Iowa between Des Moines and Minneapolis on a natural spring-fed lake; Clear Lake has several attractive dining options and great places to stay. In addition to its numerous stores and museums, Clear Lake is home to a beautiful marina and state parks.
17 Things to do in Clear Lake Iowa
See firsthand what it means to live the lake life, from spending a lazy afternoon on the beach to chasing speckled rooster tails and fishing all year. Dive into Clear Lake’s vibrant beauty and culture. Whether you’re here for one or two days or are thinking of planning your retirement here, you’ll love the city of Clear Lake and all it offers.
173 Degree Craft Distillery
This new venue offers locally created spirits turned into craft drinks in their tasting room and rooftop lounge. It is the perfect way to connect with friends after a long day. May I suggest the Moscovian Mule? No Russian vodka is needed here – they make their own!
Whoever said airport restaurants were a bad thing has never eaten here. From guacamole made table side to a margarita flight, you have to add this place to your must-hit list of stops when in town. Our group tried everything from the fajitas to the ground beef burrito. Everyone practically licked their plates.
Central Garden of North Iowa
If you are looking for things to do in Clear Lake Iowa, Central Gardens is a must. It is the central attraction in north Iowa; and it’s located at 800 2nd ave n. The garden is spread over three acres and has 23 themed gardens that provide a getaway for 18,000 guests annually with the help of their 100 or so volunteers.
Magnificent scenery and brilliant spectator programming are unique features that make Central Garden of North Iowa the best place to hold events. This garden offers a vibrant environment and various activities accessible to visitors. This is a great place to meet friends for lunch, plan your wedding, and throw an important event.
In addition to these facilities, the garden also organizes 70+ events annually, of which you can be part. We love the Friday Kid’s garden activities as this is a FREE space. That is a blessing for families and a great way to connect the kids with nature. After all, nature is the best classroom (in my opinion). Add in the 2 FREE little kid’s libraries, perfect spots to sit and read, and did we mention FREE to the public? What is there not to love about this place?
When we visited, there were FREE line dancing lessons – and of course, I jumped in. What a hoot! The teacher knew multiple different dances, and the entire group was beyond welcoming to newbies. I did want to mention that the chickens were not present during our visit – it was simply too hot to have them out, and arrangements were made for their safety and comfort. Just one of the many little details they keep in mind.
The garden remains open every day from 7 am to 8 pm and is an incredible “city park” during the summer.
Clear Lake City Beach
Looking for the perfect place to swim and soak up the sun? Clear Lake City Beach is a well-maintained sandy beach with plenty of places to relax and enjoy the view. There is a large, clean splash pad perfect for all ages. The beach also has plenty of shade and picnic tables for visitors to enjoy.
In addition to splash pads and picnic tables, Clear Lake City Beach has a playground and boat ramp. The playground has swings, a slide, and a play structure for kids. The boat ramp is perfect for anglers who want to take their catches home. Visitors also have access to shower facilities and restrooms.
Clear Lake Fire Museum
Get ready to step back in time by visiting a 20th-century fire station that resembles the early days of firefighting! Created in 1986, this museum was the first fire museum in Iowa by local volunteer firefighters. It has numerous early photographs of fire departments, firefighting services, and memorabilia. I have been hooked on fire museums since our visit to Southern Indiana a few years ago when we checked out the Vintage Fire Truck Museum.
Some exhibits include the 1924 Ahrens Fox Pumper Engine, popularly known as the “Rolls Royce of Fire Engines,” and an 1883 hand-drawn hose cart bought by the city and restored by the museum members in 1974. We like that the museum’s main floor serves as a fire prevention classroom and holds meetings. The museum remains open year-round from 1 pm to 4 pm.
I can’t have a list of things to do in Clear Lake Iowa and not talk about the history! The Clear Lake Area is rich in history, with many historic sites scattered throughout the area. The Plane Crash Site of Buddy Holly and Historic Surf Ballroom were just two of the stops we made in the area.
Historic Surf Ballroom
In a state with more ballrooms per capita than other states, I am happy that Fox’s ocean beach club vision of a dance hall still stands today. While a ton of regional bands were featured, this place really hit its stride in the early 50s with early Rock and would soon garner national recognition.
The Surf Ballroom is one of the most famous and historic Rock and roll landmarks because of the event later widely referred to as ” The Day The Music Died.” This is when rising Rock n roll stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson performed their last performance as a part of their “Winter Dance Party Tour” in 1959.
Visitors can expect to be greeted with murals painted on the walls of the ballrooms that depict images of waves lapping on the shore, boats moving on the water, and palm trees. The furniture is bamboo and rattan, providing a South Pacific setting. Several artificial palm trees stand on both sides of the stage. Make sure you check out the booths! They were designed to keep you cozy with friends and even had drawers under them for ladies to keep their purses safe – until management figured out that a lot of booze was being smuggled in. Let’s say there are no more drawers…
The music venue is still open year-round and has a 2,100-person seating capacity with a 6,300-square-foot dancing area. It holds a museum of musical memorabilia, a Wall of Fame featuring many of the best-known performers who performed at the venue, a green room full of signatures, and a souvenir shop. (Yes, I got a T-shirt!) They keep the legend alive with the annual winter dance party.
Try to tour the Fox House across the street if you get a chance.
Plane Crash Site of Buddy Holly
Most know that Buddy Holly was an American rock and roll singer and songwriter widely considered one of the most influential musicians of his era. He was known for his powerful vocals, wide vocal range, and early rockabilly work.
On December 3rd, 1959, Buddy Holly, along with Ritchie Valens and J.P Richardson, died in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, marking their last concert in Clear Lake. Later, this event was known as “The Day the Music Died.” The plane crash site of Buddy Holly has been marked for years by a memorial and is now a popular tourist destination in Clear Lake.
The memorial was built on private farmland by a 50’s music fan Ken Paquette in 1989, honoring three of America’s finest rock n roll artists. The stainless steel monument represents a guitar and three hit records with their names but is adorned by moments from adoring fans. All the coins stumped us until we realized that Ritchie Valens would not have been on that plane had he not won the coin flip to band member Tommy Allsup. And, yes, I am listening to La Bamba as I type this article up.
The entrance to this almost half-mile hike to the crash site is marked with a sizeable plasma-cut steel set of wayfarer-style glasses similar to what Buddy Holly used to wear.
While I am a coffee drinker at heart, I believe in the Asian arts of essential oils, herbs, and teas. This place has you covered more with Sarcee Johann’s extensive knowledge after 25 years of learning.
No worries if you aren’t into all that – their hot and cold drinks are incredible – we went for the “Muddy Mushroom,” which tasted like a very rich hot cocoa – doesn’t that make it easier to enjoy “healthy” stuff? Bring on the yum!
Lady of the Lake
For the real Clear Lake experience, you have to make it happen on the water! The Lady of the Lake cruise offers guests a unique experience as they travel around the lake in an authentic Stern Wheeler that offers scenic views of Clear Lake.
It’s an excellent option for those who want to enjoy the sights and sounds of the open water as you take in Clear Lake’s beautiful lake views. The tour is approximately 90 mins, and you keep yourself updated with its schedule that remains posted on the City Seawall.
If you have your own boat, go crazy! My group played on one of the pontoon boats and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
The Lakeside Inn is an inviting and only unique boutique hotel in Clear Lake, Iowa, with its chic lakeside setting. Nestled among the trees on a picturesque shoreline, guests can enjoy the peace and tranquility of this unique property.
The Lakeside Inn provides everything a traveler could need or want in a relaxing getaway, from its comfortable guest rooms and suites to its delicious breakfast buffet. With plenty of amenities on-site, including a patio, balconies, and a private dock, visitors can enjoy activities such as fishing, water sports, sunsets, boating, and much more. So, make your day better with fresh air and relaxation while staying close to all that Clear Lake offers.
Larch Pine Inn
Winner of 2021 “Outstanding Lodging Properties” by Iowa Tourism, Larch Pine Inn resides in the heart of Clear Lake, Iowa. An excellent lakefront or quiet escape from urban life awaits at this place. You and your sweetie can spend a wonderful vacation enjoying a delicious three-course breakfast every morning and unwinding in expansive whirlpool bathtubs after a restful night’s sleep.
Larch Pine Inn has design roots in Victorian-style architecture, built with modern amenities. The hotel spreads over half an acre of land and features four bedrooms with their bathrooms in the main house. It also has a one-bedroom apartment, commonly known as ” the Crow’s Nest,” situated above a two-stall garage. So, visit today and enjoy some meantime with your family here.
Ask the owners about the adventure they had learning the history of the place. It cracks me up!
Rookies Rockin’ Sports Bar
Although Rookies Rockin’ Sports Bar has been home to some of the best sports action since 1995, we didn’t eat at the Sports bar, but their slightly more upscale version next door called “Sevens Restaurant and Steakhouse” that they opened in 2009.
We didn’t realize that their entire menu wasn’t available Monday nights, but they DID have two burgers with fries for just $5. Now, they were larger than sliders and a massive bargain for the price. We can see why this is a popular place for the locals.
I went with the Mango Chicken Sandwich – a grilled chicken sandwich with bacon, swiss, spinach, red onion, tomato, and mango chutney on a ciabatta roll and chose a side of fried cheese balls to accompany it. I know we need to return as pecan-crusted chicken is calling my name.
South Shore Donut Company
OK. Donuts. Need I say more? When looking at things to do in Clear Lake Iowa, this makes for a great way to start your day!
Winner of the 2019 Sweetest Bakery in America Contest, The South Shore Donut Company is a family-owned and operated business providing donuts to the people of Clear Lake since 2017. The company’s donuts are made with fresh ingredients and offer 12 to 13 different flavors, including classic and specialty donuts. The shop remains open from Thursday to Saturday from 7:30 am to 12 pm.
This is the place to go when looking for a delicious assortment of homemade soups, salads, sandwiches, and desserts. They supply a variety of hand-cut meats and cheeses – such as their oven-roasted beef. The menu items are homemade using the freshest of ingredients.
May I suggest you try the Snickerdoodle Cheesecake? Yum!
(Other fun Iowa places we have been)
- Pagliai’s Pizza Iowa City Really Delivers
- Fly Around the Antique Airfield and Airport Museum
- Experience the World-Famous Canteen Restaurant Lunch!
- 10 Steps to Be Like a Local in Estherville Iowa
- The Art Behind the American Gothic House and Center
- Hamburg Inn Iowa City: A Tradition Of Fine Tasting Foods
The Crazy Camping Girl in me loves the fact that Clear Lake is home to two state parks, both of which offer visitors a variety of activities and attractions. In addition, the park offers visitors fishing, boating, swimming, camping, and hiking opportunities.
Clear Lake State Park
Nestled in Clear Lake with 590 acres, The park features a variety of trails perfect for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. There are also several playgrounds to keep the little ones entertained.
In addition to the recreational opportunities, Clear Lake State Park is a great way to check out the local wildlife habitat with the entire family.
The park has 149 campsites spread over four campgrounds. Several designated campgrounds offer plenty of secluded spots for those looking for a little more solitude. In addition to these amenities, the park also has a swimming pool with a shower facility.
McIntosh State Park
The 60-acre McIntosh Woods State Park is a hidden gem in the heart of town on the northwest shore of Clear Lake. It has the only two yurts in the Iowa State Park system and other options to rest your head. The park has two jetties that offer stunning views of the water, with one being handicap accessible.
It is a year-round fishing dream as walleye, muskie, Northern pike, catfish, yellow bass, and panfish await your bait. Make sure you take advantage of their fish cleaning station to keep your campsite animal friendly!
Pro Tip: Plan your visit so you can spend a few days in nearby Mason City, Iowa!
Wind Kite Festival
While my visit didn’t time right for this event, I had to include this in my list of things to do in Clear Lake Iowa it as we will certainly go back to experience it ourselves. The Wind Kite Festival is a celebration of kites on the first weekend of February every year in Clear Lake, Iowa. The festival features giant inflatable kites flown in different shapes and sizes by kite flyers all over America. It’s a great event for families to enjoy and an excellent opportunity to see some of the best kites flying in the Midwest.
Whether young or old, a newbie or a professional kite flyer, all are welcome with open hands to witness a spectacular kite-flying display around. As it’s a winter event, make sure you’re dressed accordingly. Admission to the festival is free, and be prepared for the crowd – there were over 40,000 people in 2022!
Summing it Up
As you can tell, the Clear Lake experience has much to offer visitors. Whether you’re looking for outdoor activities, cultural attractions, or just some good old-fashioned relaxation, there’s something for everyone here. So why not take advantage of all the town offers and make some memories? Get out there and explore!